Monday, March 12, 2012

Oliphint on God’s immutability, anger, and condescension

If you read this blog with any frequency you will know that I think very highly of the book God With Us: Divine Condescension and the Attributes of God by K. Scott Oliphint. You can read my review of it here as well as subsequent posts here, here, here, and here. One of the many profundities presented in the book is how the author and his approach to divine condescension deals with occurrences in Scripture where the essential nature of God seems to be compromised. 

For instance, when the Bible says God gets angry, does this not indicate a change in God? Or as in the case of Abraham sacrificing his son Isaac, when Scripture records God saying "Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me." (Genesis 22:12 ESV) is it really suggesting that God isn't omniscient and only realized the outcome of Abraham's test when it was completed? Clearly, we cannot espouse positions that undermine essential characteristics of God such as his omniscience and his immutability.

Oliphint provides the reader with an explanation of how we might formulate our theology in terms of the difficulties and how we might articulate those formations intelligently. Consider this following excerpt:
… when Scripture says that the Lord's anger was kindled, it really was kindled. Because God is personal, we should expect that he will react in different ways to different things that please and displease him. These ascriptions of God in Scripture are not meant to simply tell us more about ourselves, but rather are meant to show us more of who God is, especially as he interacts with his human creatures. They are meant to show us who God is in light of his gracious condescension, generally, and of the gospel, more specifically, as given progressively throughout covenant history.
    Does this mean that God is mutable and that he has given up his immutability? No more so than when we affirm that when Christ was angry (see, e.g., Mark 3:5; 10:14), he gave up his deity, or that his anger could be "real" only if his immutability were denied. On the contrary, as we have seen, we can truthfully predicate both aspects and properties of Christ; the communicatio means that both aspects of Christ's character can (and must) be affirmed. So also with God. He is both immutable and in his condescension takes on covenantal properties in order really and truly to relate himself to us. (191)
I found the way in which Oliphint discussed and exposited this issue of great benefit. It is the best explanation of this problematic issue that I, in my limited exposure, have interacted with. This explanation takes both the orthodox view of God's essential nature and the witness of Scripture with utmost seriousness, not allowing either to fall by the wayside. Oliphint goes on to say,
The penchant to shift the focus of Scripture's ascription of God's affections from himself to us in order to guard his essential deity, while admirable and understandable, does not do justice to the reality of God's real and gracious condescension since the beginning of creation. It fails to recognize that what God has done in Christ through his condescension he has been doing from the dawn of time. The condescension of the Son of God in becoming Jesus Christ points us back to his condescension elsewhere in Scripture. To undermine or in any way minimize that condescension is, to that extent, to miss the glory of the goodness and grace of God as he sovereignly acts to accomplish all of his purposes. (191-2)

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